Among the formations now in the field against the ultra-reactionary ISIS is the first explicitly LGBT military unit in the Syrian war—the Queer Insurrection and Liberation Army (TQILA). With a slogan of “These faggots kill fascists,” the militia is part of the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF), which is in turn part of the International Freedom Battalion, made up of leftist volunteers from Europe, America and elsewhere who have been drawn by the anarchist-influenced politics of the Rojava Kurds, now leading the ground offensive against ISIS in northern Syria.
Giving this already startling development a truly surreal aspect is that we learn of it from a generally favorable account in Newsweek. And making it more surreal still is that the Kurdish militia to which the International Freedom Battalion is attached, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), is the central pillar of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)—the alliance of local forces being backed by the Pentagon to drive ISIS from Syria.
The Pentagon has apparently been allowed to establish a staging base to support the SDF within Kurdish-controlled territory at Rmeilan. And the SDF are not just being backed by the US air-strikes that are taking a fast-increasing toll in civilian casualties. US Stryker vehicles led a convoy of SDF forces into the battle for the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa earlier this month, according to Syria’s opposition SMART News Agency, which shows videos posted online by media activists on the ground. (Military Times, July 7)
The genuinely heroic media activists of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, who have risked their lives to document ISIS abuses in the city, are now reporting abuses by the advancing SDF—claiming most recently that residents in the SDF-occupied village of Big Sweidiyeh were forcibly expelled and their properties looted. RBSS earlier this month charged the SDF with press-ganging youth into their forces in areas they have occupied.
Charges of SDF-YPG connivance with Russia and the Assad regime and “ethnic cleansing” against Arabs (exaggerated or not) are driving northern Syria toward Arab-Kurdish ethnic war. This is one of several converging factors that could mean the imminent liberation of Raqqa from ISIS merely opening a wider war.
Images of jubilant residents in areas liberated from ISIS by the SDF burning their burqas and shaving their beards, released by the YPG press office and making their way into the Western media (e.g. The Independent of July 22) are doubtless real. But there appears to be another side to the story.
As we’ve stated before: If partisans of the Free Syrian Army and Arab-led opposition to Assad have been too quick to simply portray the Rojava Kurds as pawns of Moscow and Damascus, international leftist supporters of the Rojava Kurds have been largely ignoring the fact that the YPG is collaborating with both Russia and the US. If there is any prospect of rebuilding Arab-Kurdish unity against ISIS and Assad alike, both sides are going to have to grapple with the heightening contradictions.